Bell Telephone Company Building Anniversary

Bell Telephone Building Opening Night, 1906

110 Years Ago: On December 14th 1906, the Bell Telephone building at 321 Montgomery Street was dedicated. Originally housed at 311 Montgomery Street, the phone company soon outgrew that building due to the rising popularity of the telephone, and moved a few doors down to 321 Montgomery Street. In the new telephone building there were counters for paying bills and a kitchen for preparing employee meals on the first floor, offices and training rooms on the second floor, phone equipment on the third floor, dinning and locker rooms for employees on the fourth floor, and switchboards, which were operated primarily by women, on the fifth floor.

Women Operators at the Bell Telephone Company Building 321 Montgomery Street The operators who worked at the telephone company were trained to use the new dial telephone, which arrived in Syracuse in the 1920s.

The Onondaga Historical Association moved into 321 Montgomery Street in the 1980s after the phone company had moved out and today the building is home to OHA’s general history museum, research center, and museum store.

The building was also a community fallout shelter during the Cold War (1947-1991). In the event of a nuclear blast, local citizens could find a safe haven from radioactive material inside this building. With its thick walls and floors, as well as blast shields on the upper windows, this building could protect several people from radioactive fallout.

Working in conjunction with the Dept. of Defense and the Office of Civil Defense, Bell Telephone Company officials stocked the building with water, food, medical supplies, and radiation detection kits, provided by the federal government.  Many municipalities provided citizens with a list of nearby community shelters.  The community shelter program gradually faded away during the 1970s and early 1980s.

– Dan Connors